As a child, I dreamt of being a cinematographer in Hollywood (as you do) but then real life got in the way (as it does), so I put my creative genius (!) to other uses. Then I woke up one morning a few years back, with a movie playing in my head, a story I was desperate to tell. I told myself, “This HAS to be a screenplay so I better learn how to write one.”
Since that creative bomb went off in my brain, I have worked hard to expand my knowledge of the industry and develop my writing skills; honing my craft with a mixture of self-education, great courses, selective reading and fun networking… and of course, lots of writing. Whilst I have my feet firmly on the ground with respect to the odds we all face in this game, I am doing okay.
I mean, despite the many distractions; a ton of films and TV series to watch, a vast library of screenplays to read, zillions of contradictory ‘how to and how not to’ articles posted online (some great, some awful) and ‘expert’ books with opposing formulae, I really do get it:
I just need to use evocative, well crafted words to create images in the mind of my readers; emotionally engage them, entertain them, immerse them in my story. Make them feel something. In short, great stories, really well told.
So recently I watched HAPPY VALLEY with increasing awe: the production, the acting, but mostly the writing that it all stemmed from. And it scared me sh*tess, whilst making that little bas*ard that follows me around constantly dance with joy (you know, the devilish inner critic that sits on everyone’s shoulder).
So, why? Well, not because of the excellent story or characters, but because that nasty little gobsh*te keeps bugging me with thoughts like these:
I admire Sally Wainwright, she has served a long writing apprenticeship, built a strong reputation and created some amazing characters and stories, but it has taken some time (20+ years) for her to get the full recognition she deserves. I believe I have the ability (and dare I say talent). LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: I certainly have the determination, but do I have the time?
Coupled with my own love of writing strong female characters (that aren’t just ‘men with boobs’), it is simply a fact; the industry is mostly white and male. Even if someone you pitch to is more diverse, regardless, they must of course gauge commerciality and/or cater to their bosses/company’s likes and dislikes (and protect their own jobs). Personal taste, quite naturally, will also colour their own subjectivity. LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: Can I ever break through that glass barrier to get an opportunity to have my voice heard?
I actually enjoy networking and pitching, but here in the UK we are generally not comfortable getting ourselves out there and getting in people’s faces (ie self-promotion). I was driving up the motorway a while back and these words were in etched into the dirt on the back of a truck: “Let someone else blow your own trumpet, the sound will travel much further” All well and good, but you have to get that someone else to pick up and blow the f***ing trumpet in the first place. LITTLE VOICE IN MY HEAD: Can I ever be lucky enough to have the chance to prove my writing is good, so that someone wants to be in my corner and help me punch through the ‘no unsolicited’ catch-22 and garner interest in my writing? You know, a Manager!
So, how do I feed that nice little angel sitting on my other shoulder and help him stay strong and loud enough to drown the other little bugger out? Well …
Time (or age/gender/ethnicity) is not really the issue, STORY is the issue. Life is the best apprenticeship for any writer. Whatever your age, tell the f***ing story, inject it with a strong voice, utilise all your skills, make it yours and make it great.
Opportunity is not really the issue, CREATING OPPORTUNITY is the issue. There is someone out there who is a perfect match, you just gotta stay in the game long enough to find each other. You will never meet them sat on your ar*e locked away in your writing space, whining about not getting any breaks.
Luck is not really the issue, DOING THE GROUNDWORK is the issue. Everyone can create the same chance, but if you are not in the game you have no chance. You must be ready to make the most of your opportunity when it comes along.
- There are no short cuts. Build a solid portfolio. Write the crap, write good stuff, rewrite it, fine tune it, polish the great stuff. Write something so good you can’t be ignored. Write right, RIGHT!
- Keep on networking, be helpful and supportive of others, give more than you get. No one owes you anything. Always be learning and developing.
- Persevere – be in it for the long haul. Take rejection on the chin; success is statistics – every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’.
- Quieten all those ‘expert’ voices messing with your head and listen more to your own voice, make it your best friend. Set it free to create not criticise.
So feed your creative angel (let’s call it Positive Performance) and say ‘F*** you’ to your critical little devil (lets call it Perplexing Procrastination) starve it of what it craves, what it lives on; your self-belief, sapping your writing appetite and energy.
So, HAPPY VALLEY scared me shi*tless because …
1. The writing inspired me to continue to aspire to excellence in my writing.
2. It strengthened my resolve to tell my stories with as much skill and insight.
3. It reminded me how hard I need to work to achieve that standard.
BIO: Dee Chilton is a cinematographer with words, having maintained an avid interest in film and writing from childhood. With a background in industrial photography (and later teaching it), she helped to write, film and edit live action and animated films. She then drank the queen’s shilling and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy and enjoyed a career ‘seeing the world differently’. She now writes full time and aims to see her words brought to life on screen and in print, in collaboration with filmmakers and publishers. Follow Dee on Twitter.
HAPPY VALLEY Links:
Interview with Sally Wainwright and Sally on Twitter: @spiceyw
HAPPY VALLEY Scripts to download (legally and free)
Happy Valley ProdCo and on Twitter: @RedProductionCo
On This Blog Before About “Making It Happen”:
How To Maximise Your Portfolio
How To Make It As A Writer (AKA This Shit Ain’t Accidental)
7 Ways YOU’RE Screwing With Your Writing Chances
8 Ways For Screenwriters To Get Collaborating & Making
Wow Dee, what a wonderfully passionate piece of emotional writing. I’m in tears here, I can feel your soul, your passion, even your anger coming through the pages and understand just how you feel.
I think we English do still retain our characteristic stiff upper lip, which is charming at times, but then to experience the openness and honesty of other countries is at times quite disarming. I just came back (about 3 weeks ago actually!) from a 7 day break in New York and Baltimore, a family wedding and then visiting friends and heck its a different place, its bowled me over and I’ve been over there a dozen times before. From the beautiful young woman who met my gaze and held it, smiling, nay, beaming at me in Grimaldi’s Pizza place under the Brooklyn Bridge to a girl friend I really got to talk to for the first time, it was just so refreshing to lose the shackles for a while. You feel like, yes, anything can happen here. As my girlfriend said to me after launching into her own friend over some misunderstanding, “We say what we gotta say, then we eat”. Get it out there, don’t be afraid to be who you are, as Steven Pressfield says, it’s your duty to yourself and the world to do that, otherwise the great plan falls apart!
There’s a lot of stuff out there to learn from, but if I could sum it all up in a few words they would be Andrew Stanton’s (Pixar) words when he simply says, ‘Make me care’. I guess its that simple and yet that complicated. It’s an emotional experience we are seeking, as Joe Campbell said’ “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive”.
Thanks for your lovely answer James, well said.
Oh Dee, my emotions exactly. That time issue weighs on me, but in the end, the pleasure of creating is what matters…and if it materialises into a production, then that’s just a bonus!
Thanks Haya, keep at it. We must do what we do best in the time that we have.
Thanks guys – I needed the same kick… I think we all do! There’s far too many who will kick you down – don’t do it for them! Keep the faith and do what you do well and enjoy it.
Story, creating opportunity, groundwork. The holy trinity. I couldn’t’ve said it better. Great article, Dee. Thanks Lucy for putting it out there.
Thanks Brian. Onwards and upwards!
Great article Dee!! I find inspiration can be daunting and wonderful at the same time too. But I’m with you in that all that matters, above the practical worries, is to keep on writing. And pushing yourself to tell the best stories you can. That’s what it’s all about. 🙂
You said it Lyse! We can do this 🙂
Thanks, Dee. It´s always a present to see what you share with the world. You´re an inspiration to many.
Yes, I am with you all the way. On top of all the worries I have my English as my second language to worry about as well!
But, Dee you have written some excellent stuff, already. So keep at it.
Sally took 30 years?
My god….I will never make it!